|TORONTO BLUE JAYS|
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Eleven months ago, the Jays acquired Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes from the Braves for Alex Gonzalez, Tim Collins, and Tyler Pastornicky. Escobar, then mired in a season-long slump, had displayed few signs of his developing power. When combined with the occasional gaffe on the basepaths, Escobar was a target of Bobby Cox’s ire. The Braves dealt Escobar and the players memorably gave his replacement, Gonzalez, a standing ovation upon his entrance to the clubhouse.
While Gonzalez may receive credit for galvanizing the Braves clubhouse into a playoff team (and remember, the Braves were in first place before the trade), Escobar should receive some credit for his resiliency. The 2010 season was not his finest as a professional, but he has stepped up so far in the 2011 campaign and has seven more extra-base hits in his first 261 at-bats this season as he did in his first 261 at-bats last season (which happens to mark the total he reached with Atlanta before being dealt).
All and all, Escobar’s OPS is more than 100 points higher in 2011 than 2010, and the Jays must feel comfortable with his personality, as they announced an extension with their shortstop on Father’s Day. The deal includes a guaranteed $10 million over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, and two club options (each worth $5 million) for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Escobar was scheduled to become a free agent after the 2013 season, so the Jays not only gain cost certainty over his final two years of arbitration, but for his first two free agent seasons too. The crazy part is that the Jays have full control over those options, and that leaves them with little risk should they feel Escobar’s skills have atrophied by then.
As are most deals with this much built-in protection for the team, the Escobar extension looks like a smart move. In fact, the only questionable part is what it means for the Jays top shortstop prospect, 22-year-old Adeiny Hechavarria. An all-world defender, Hechavarria’s bat is lacking and might never play up in the majors—consider that his .232/.259/.361 mark in Double-A this season is actually an improvement over his 2010 offering. The Jays now have the luxury of bringing Hechavarria along slowly, with hopes that he can reach his upside as an everyday shortstop. Therein lies another beautiful part of extending Escobar. Should Hechavarria be deemed ready in late 2012, 2013, or early 2014, the Jays could still find a take for Escobar. That's because, even if the Jays have no use for Escobar at $5 million in 2013 or 2014, the odds are another team will.
The Jays could continue to reap the benefits of a strong return on investment well into the latter part of this decade should they eventually deal Escobar. And to think, it all started by signing Gonzalez for $2.75 million with a club option attached.